One word continues to come to mind when trying to describe Mohsin Hamid’s Exit West, and that word is quiet. Silent. Subdued. Subtle. Its storytelling is understated, but I also found it to be very underwhelming. I could not have received more recommendations for Exit West, and I enjoyed it, but it didn’t quite live up to the hype. While I read this book, I kept hearing a voice in the back of my head saying, “You should be loving this… why aren’t you loving this?” and while trying to summarize my thoughts, I definitely struggled with not writing a rave review. Maybe I shouldn’t have waited so long to read it, or maybe I’m going through a reading slump, but Exit West just didn’t do much for me.
From the jacket:
In a country teetering on the brink of civil war, two young people meet- sensual, fiercely independent Nadia and gentle, restrained Saeed. They embark on a furtive love affair, and are soon cloistered in a premature intimacy by the unrest roiling their city. When it explodes, turning familiar streets into a patchwork of checkpoints and bomb blasts, they begin to hear whispers about doors- doors that can whisk people far away, if perilously and for a price. As the violence escalates, Nadia and Saeed decide that they no longer have a choice. Leaving their homeland and their old lives behind, they find a door and step through…
Exit West follows these remarkable characters as they emerge into an alien and uncertain future, struggling to hold on to each other, to their past, to the very sense of who they are. Profoundly intimate and powerfully inventive, it tells an unforgettable story of love, loyalty, and courage that is both completely of our time and for all time.
“We are all migrants through time.”
-Mohsin Hamid, Exit West
Exit West is not a “flowery” book by any means, but that’s because it doesn’t need to be. The story is enough in and of itself. Hamid writes long, sprawling sentences full of clear, simple language, and there’s beauty in that simplicity. I picked up Exit West amidst my study of Romantic poetry for class, so Hamid’s style was a breath of fresh air compared to Wordsworth and Coleridge!
The biggest part of Exit West was the magical realism. I absolutely loved the concept of the doors… but I was not too keen on the execution. I think Hamid didn’t fully commit to the magic doors concept like he needed to; it seemed like it was an idea he quickly introduced and threw around a little bit without really utilizing it. (Also, not going to lie, the doors reminded me a bit too much of Monsters, Inc., and I was glad to see Barry thought so too, yet his opinion on it was a bit more extreme than mine!)
“To love is to enter into the inevitability of one day not being able to protect what is most valuable to you.”
-Mohsin Hamid, Exit West
Overall, I have mixed feelings on Exit West. It was underwhelming to say the least. I enjoyed it; I didn’t love it but certainly didn’t hate it, and I’m sure that I’ll pick it up again at some point when I feel clear of any hype or pressure surrounding it.